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M. Night Shyamalan (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

From writing to acting to filmmaking, the man with a “sixth sense” for the arts has a lot on his plate.

Thursday evening, world-renowned screenwriter, director and producer M. Night Shyamalan visited Penn as part of the Wharton Leadership Lecture series. A diverse audience of undergraduate and graduate students filled the Dhirubhai Ambani Auditorium in Huntsman Hall to its full capacity, eager to hear Shyamalan share his experiences in the film industry and philanthropic sector.

Although widely recognized as a success in the film industry, with notable titles including The Sixth Sense and Signs, Shyamalan has devoted a large portion of his time to charity work — especially in the Philadelphia area, which he calls home — through the M. Night Shyamalan Foundation. The foundation gives grants to charities to improve educational opportunities and fight hunger, along with a variety of other causes. It also aids smaller villages that would otherwise be overlooked by larger organizations.

“When I started the foundation I wanted to do something for Philadelphia,” Shyamalan said. “There are a lot of things I could do for the city, and it came down to education for me.”

Shyamalan also praised Givology, an online “giving marketplace” founded by Penn students in 2008, for its contributions and emphasis on giving to the world. “Givology is about presenting social work philanthropy as part of your daily life,” he said, noting how he has thoroughly enjoyed working with this organization and calling it the “charity equivalent of Facebook.” After the event, students were given the opportunity to join Givology at a table outside the room.

The lecture consisted of two question-and-answer sessions, with the first led by a student moderator and the second consisting of questions from the audience. As the evening progressed, Shyamalan gradually developed a rapport with the audience and showed his humorous side. When asked about his journey to success Shyamalan responded, “I’m just more ‘me’ than other people are. I’m open to being ‘me’ whether you like it or don’t. Either way, you’re going to get to know my voice.”

The majority of Wharton Leadership Lecture speakers traditionally have backgrounds in business, making yesterday’s lecture even more unique. “We’re really proud he’s one of the first non-traditional speakers, and we’re trying to break out this year by getting more to come to Wharton,” Wharton Leadership Lecture committee member and second-year MBA student Chenkay Li said.

College freshman Daniel Yellin was also excited about the prospect of a non-traditional speaker for the series. “I thought it was interesting, eye-opening,” he said. “You associate Shyamalan with a certain type of movie and a certain type of personality, and that is not at all reflected in his demeanor and the way he presents himself. His creative capacity is extremely impressive as well.”

When asked at the end of the event about the legacy he wants to leave behind, Shyamalan had a simple yet bold answer.

“I want my legacy to be as truthful and courageous as possible.”

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